Editor's note: Articles about the Randolph County Relay For Life will be published throughout the week, leading up to Saturday's event.
John Jones is a hard-working guy. He has owned and operated Autocrafters, a garage on the Beverly Five-lane, for 20 years. His favorite occupation, however, is driving a school bus, something he has done full-time for three years.
"People look at me and say 'You do what?'" Jones laughed. "I have a good bunch of kids. They are the best part of my day."
However, his life took a surprising turn last fall when he found himself suffering from severe fatigue, to the point that he was worried it would interfere with work. Figuring it was an issue with his sleep, he visited his doctor and received some shocking news. His bloodwork indicated that he was anemic.
Wanting to admit him to a hospital for tests immediately, the doctors finally agreed to let him go home so that he could run his bus route the following day, if he promised to admit himself after work.
Over the next two weeks, Jones underwent a series of tests. He was diagnosed and scheduled to be treated for colon cancer. Jones took the news as well as anyone could, began his treatment and went back to work as soon as he felt able.
While Jones was preparing for treatment, someone special noticed his absence. Enter 7-year-old Caitlyn Rennix.
Rennix is one of Jones' passengers on his bus route, and when she inquired to her parents about why Jones was absent, her mother called Jones and found out about his illness.
"When I explained it to Caitlyn, she went back to her room," said Rennix's mother, Laurie.
Then Caitlyn had an idea.
"We waited and she came back and said 'I want to help him, Mom,' and that was it," Laurie Rennix said.
Caitlyn's plan was to paint pictures, sell them and donate the money to Jones for his treatment. And that's exactly what she did. Caitlyn created more than 40 paintings that were then auctioned off to people in the community.
But that's not all. Caitlyn, with the help of her family, canvassed businesses for donations, held a bake sale and earned the level of outreach she needed to raise a significant sum of money.
When Jones heard about what Caitlyn was doing, he was shocked and humbled.
"No one's ever done something like that for me before," Jones said. "How many 7-year-olds do you know who would do something like that?"
Jones thanked Caitlyn for her support and though he appreciated the gesture, he explained that since he had insurance and most of his medical costs would be taken care of, perhaps she should give the money to someone else who needed it.
After earning more than $2,300, Caitlyn decided to donate the money to the Randolph County Cancer Support Group in Elkins and used some of the money to purchase a brick outside the Davis Center in honor of Jones.
Today, Jones is on the road to recovery and is feeling happy and healthy. Despite his illness, he never lost his work ethic. From the initial doctor's appointment through his six months of treatment, including all of his chemotherapy sessions, Jones only used 15 sick days from work.
Not one of them went unnoticed, however, thanks to Caitlyn. She continued to support him through his entire bout with illness. They are still close today.
"There's a reason she came into my life," Jones smiled, speaking of Caitlyn. "She got me through this thing. She never let up. She doesn't quit. I call her my little angel."
"She surprises and amazes me every day," said Laurie Rennix.
Jones said that even during such a difficult time, there was much good that came from the experience. He was able to develop a community of support, from old friends to some unexpected new ones. He said the whole experience has helped him "appreciate life more."
Both he and Rennix's family plan to attend the Randolph County Relay For Life Saturday at the Elkins Depot, an event sponsored by the American Cancer Society to help raise money for cancer research.
"It's all in your mind and you've got to keep working," Jones mused. "Sickness is a mindset and you've got to work through it."